The Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University (USU) held its 8th iteration of Pathways to Military Internship: The Summer Institute on campus from 13-17 June 2022. Launched in 2015, The Summer Institute is an intensive five-day course designed to enable clinical and counseling psychology doctoral students from across the country to foster their interest in a military psychology career. Each year, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year students come together to explore the opportunities offered by military internships and gain knowledge on the variety of roles psychologists who serve in the Armed Forces take on. Completion of the program enhances their competitiveness for an active duty internship placement.
This year’s class was comprised of 20 students from 16 different states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. On the first day, they learned about military culture, such as structure, mission and norms. From this foundation, they explored the ways in which the myriad of responsibilities that military psychologists may assume differ from those of civilian psychologists. The content challenges students’ assumptions related to working with the military population and illuminates how the warrior ethos simultaneously informs key military values and yet may contribute to vulnerabilities in mental health care stigma and access.
The next day provided a window into psychological assessments specific to DoD settings followed by the experiences of military spouses and children when a family member joins the military. Because many of the students in the class already were connected to the military, they engaged actively in the discussion about how family members may be impacted by their decision to pursue a military psychology career.
As in past years, the Training Directors Panel was one of the course highlights. This year's panel represented the three services that offer psychology internships: MAJ (Dr.) Jennifer Iveland, from the US Army; Maj (Dr.) Marc Patience, from the US Air Force; CAPT (Dr.) Richard Bergthold (USN, Ret), from the US Navy. During this session, students had the opportunity to learn about military internship programs directly from the Training Directors as they discussed clinical rotation opportunities, offered guidance on determining best fit among the different sites, and spoke about qualifications they look for in internship applicants. The Training Directors responded to questions in a large discussion group then stayed for informal small group conversations during which students met them face to face.
Later in the week, the students interfaced with another panel; this time, three current active duty psychologists, each representing a different branch and career stage: MAJ (Dr.) Elizabeth Sosa, from the US Army; LT (Dr.) LaToya Small from the US Navy; and Capt (Dr.) Esther Solano, from the US Air Force. The panelists shared their accounts and unique experiences while serving, then answered questions. This experience enriched the students’ understanding of a military psychology career, both professionally and personally.
Other sessions offered during the Summer Institute included a full day learning skills related to suicide risk assessment ad crisis intervention with military-connected patients as well as a 3-hour session on ethical considerations that uniformed psychologists face working with military members and decision-making strategies to apply in ethically challenging scenarios.
A new topic was presented on common sleep disorders in service members, with an interactive feature for the students to observe role plays and participate in experiential dyad breakouts to enhance their ability to incorporate sleep-relevant care in their practice. The course wrapped up with a presentation on moral injury, an evolving topic that has gained attention over the past several years but only been offered at the course a few times. Moral injury occurs when a person's ideals or expectations are violated, leading to inner conflict with a range of consequences; while moral injury can develop in civilians, military service can increase the risks.
The Summer Institute also facilitates the opportunity for the students to interact and network as they consider a military psychology career path. Prior to attending, the students wrote biographies including educational and background information to share on the Padlet, an online application to share notes and photos in a less formal context. The students then connected during the week—while walking to campus together, at breaks, lunch, and after the course—and exchanged contact information for ongoing crosstalk into the future. As one student commented, “It was refreshing to be around individuals with like-minded interests. Thank you for putting this training together. I feel motivated to go home and work towards a career in the military.”
In the continuing effort to foster a diverse pipeline for military psychology accessions, the course development team worked to spread the word about the program to organizations with diverse student membership and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). This year, the 20 students who participated represented over 18 institutions and diverse backgrounds, including 15% Black or African American, 20% Hispanic or Latino, 10% Asian or Asian American and 5% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander students.
“That was a life changing experience! Every session I have learned so much more about topics that I had limited knowledge of. I fell in love with a branch that I knew nothing about before, but now I'm ready to go home and start this process of applying to a new branch,” reflected another student at the end of the course.
As the course evolves with each annual iteration in order to meet the needs of prospective students, exciting updates to materials and content are ongoing. To learn more about Pathways to Military Internships, which includes both the 5-day in-person Summer Institute and 3-day virtual Winter Institute, visit: https://deploymentpsych.org/pathways-to-military-internships.